Author Lorrie Moore once said, “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage.” With Sunday Shorts, OprahMag.com invites you to join our own love affair with short fiction by reading original stories from some of our favorite writers.
With her last two novels—the award-winning Euphoria and last year’s bestseller Writers and Lovers—Lily King has proved adept at examining, in seemingly effortless prose, the kinds of wild romantic dramas creative people sometimes find themselves in.
Here, in her short story “Timeline,” King follows a waitress and aspiring writer as she relocates to her brother’s apartment in Burlington, Vermont following an ill-fated fling with a married man. Shortly before her friend’s wedding, she meets a new beau, a pal of her bro’s, but her old flame is still burning not too far behind her.
My brother was helping me carry my stuff up to his apartment. “Just don’t talk about Ethan Frome, okay?”
“It’s a thing of hers,” he said. “She gets drunk and we fight and she says, ‘Just because I haven’t read Ethan Frome.’”
We’d stopped on the landing. He could see how delicious I found this detail.
“C’mon. Just don’t,” he said.
If the situation were reversed, he’d be memorizing passages from that book already. “Okay, she said, very reluctantly.”
He made a noise that wasn’t quite a laugh. “This may be a complete disaster.”
We headed up the next flight. They were outdoor stairs, like at a motel. We dragged my garbage bags of clothes and books in. My room was straight through at the back. His and Mandy’s was off the kitchen. I never went in there, the whole time I lived there, so I can’t tell you what it was like. From the kitchen when they left the door open it looked like a black hole. My room was light, with two windows looking out onto North Street, not the parking lot, and plenty of room for my desk. He thought it was funny I’d brought a desk. It was a table really, no drawers, with legs I had to screw back on.
I’d moved a lot but this time it was more like self-banishment. I didn’t have the same feeling I normally did, setting up a room , twisting the legs back onto the underbelly of the plank of wood and pushing it against the wall between the windows. That fresh start, clean slate, anything’s possible feeling. I didn’t have that. I knew I was going to write a lot of stupid things that made me cry before I wrote anything good on that table.
My brother came in and laughed at my only poster. It was a timeline of human history. It was narrow and wrapped around three walls and went from the Middle Paleolithic Age to the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster a few years earlier. It comforted me.
He put his thumbnail on a spot close to the end. “There I am. Born between the construction of the Berlin Wall and the first manned spaceflight.”
We hadn’t lived together since I was seven and he was thirteen. Now I was twenty-five and he was ancient. He sat down on my bed. “Does that guy know where you are?” he said.
“Will he find out?”
“Am I going to have to fight him?”
“More likely you’ll have to listen to him sing ‘Norwegian Wood” on the sitar under my window.”
“Then I’ll really have to beat him up.”
“Your neighbors will probably beat you to it.”
He laughed, hard. “They really fucking will.” He looked around. “Mandy is not going to like all these books.”
I didn’t have bookshelves so I’d stacked them in columns in various parts of the room. They looked like a grove of stunted trees. “No Ethan Frome, as far as the eye can see.”
“Shut up. Now.”
“Just tell her that.” I said, louder. She wasn’t even home yet. “Tell her I’ve never read it.”
“No. We cannot mention it. Don’t you get that?”
“I’ve never ever wanted to talk about Ethan Frome more than I do right now.”
“She is going to fucking hate you.” But he was leaning back against the timeline on the wall and laughing again.
I got a job at another restaurant, the most expensive one I could find. It was out on the way to Lake Champlain and farm country and didn’t look like much from the outside but inside it was still a house, divided up into small rooms. Some rooms only had one table, some had a few. The restaurant was intimate. People came there for its intimacy. During the interview I was asked if I would be available to work graduation weekend, May 12-14, doubles if necessary.
“I can’t give you this job unless you can promise me that,” Kevin, the baby-faced manager, told me.
I promised. I was supposed to be the maid of honor at my friend Sigrid’s wedding in Massachusetts that weekend. In one of my unpacked garbage bags was the lilac dress she’d sent me to wear.
“Your brother is the kindest, most generous man,” Mandy said. “I know because I’m an empath. My mother always told me, find the man with the biggest heart. Do you know, he scrapes the ice off my windshield every morning?” It was April in Vermont and still snowing some mornings, so we were not talking a few months of scraping. More like six or seven. That was kind of him. But her Wes and my Wes were entirely different people. My Wes was guarded, razor sharp, all edge. Her Wes was a “cuddle bear,” so open, so sweet. Sweet was not a word we used in our family. Sweet was for suckers. Honesty, generosity, tenderness were not valued either. We had been raised to sharpen our tongues and defend ourselves to the death with them. We loved each other, we amused each other, but we were never unguarded, and we were never surprised by a sudden plunge of the knife.
Mandy was tall and sexy and worked as an assistant in a physical therapist’s office because, she said, it was the place she’d been treated after “an accident in the home” when she was seventeen. Wes told me later her father had kneecapped her with her brother’s baseball bat.
Wes and Mandy had no books. I couldn’t even find a pen. That whole side of him—the awards at boarding school, the plays he wrote and directed in college until he dropped out—he’d buried to be with her.
I didn’t see him much. He worked days putting electricity into ugly new houses on beautiful parcels of land, and I worked nights running up and down stairs, serving families in their best clothes and couples getting engaged in the small rooms. Kevin didn’t fire me when I told him about the wedding in Massachusetts. But he was angry and put me on probation and made Tiffany give me the worst tables, the ones on the third floor. But we all drank together after the restaurant was closed, after we’d set the tables for the next night and tipped out the kitchen and bar. One night we all ended up on the floor of the Azul Room, the fanciest of all the rooms, the one where we put the governor and the provost of the university when they came in . We got into a big argument about something, the assassination of JFK, I think.. We were all pretty drunk and shouting at the same time and Reenie, who’d studied child psychology but couldn’t find a job, took one of the long narrow porcelain vases off the mantelpiece—the Azul Room had a working fireplace and the waiter in that room always had to be stoking the fire on top of everything else—and said that only the person holding the vase could speak. She called it a “talking stick,” but I renamed it the Vessel of Power and Kevin, who was trying hard to ignore me, laughed and I knew my probation wouldn’t last much longer. I don’t remember too many nights at that restaurant in Shelburn, Vermont, but I remember that one. I remember feeling happy among strangers, people I’d only known for a few weeks, which made me feel like things would be okay in my life after all.
At the last restaurant I’d worked at, in Cambridge, Mass., I’d fallen for the bartender. Hard. I hadn’t expected it. William was as quiet as his name, and easy to work with. He wore vintage women’s clothing to work, mostly Asian pieces—kimonos, sabais, qipaos—but on occasion a Chanel suit or a fluttering flamenco dress. He swept through the dining room in silks of sunflower yellow or scarlet red, delivering a bottle of wine or the gimlet you forgot about. He didn’t seem to want attention for his clothing, and the one time I complimented an outfit—an embroidered turquoise sari —he thanked me curtly and said my six-top was waiting to order.
I ran into him at Au Bon Pain on a Sunday morning. He let two people go ahead of him so we could stand in the long line together. He was wearing men’s corduroys and a wool sweater. Everything in my body shifted, as if it had known, as if it had been waiting. The way he put his hand in his pocket for his cash, the way he handed over the money and slid his coffee off the counter, the way he stood at the condiment stand and poured in some cream. The dresses had hidden the span of his scapulae, the narrowing of his waist, the hard muscles of his ass. Fuck. I’d heard he had a girlfriend. I left without milk for my tea.
He caught up with me, though, and we walked together with our hands wrapped around our hot drinks. He asked if I’d seen the new sculpture outside Widener and veered into the yard to show me. We sat on the library steps and pretended to be Harvard students. “What’s your major?” I asked him and he said “Art History” and I said “Me too” and he said “No way” and we tried to figure out if we had any classes together. We made up our courses: Hangnails in Modern Sculpture, Western European Scowls Versus Smiley Faces. Not surprisingly, he was good at getting into a role. I felt like I was in college again, that he was a cute boy I’d just met and he was about to kiss me. And he did. It was the first time a first kiss made me want sex. Immediately. He looked at me like he felt the same, and like it was nothing new. He relaxed against me, like my father sinking into the couch with his first drink. In the distance there was the sound of a little kid squealing, and William pulled away. It was a little boy, just entering the gates, running toward us. William took my hand. “C’mon.” He tugged me down the steps towards the boy and the woman who trailed him. They were both dressed up, the boy in a silk bow tie and a tiny camel hair coat, and the woman in heels and a black mackintosh and flash of turquoise between.
“How is God?” William called.
“Good,” the boy said, still running. It took a long time for him to reach us on his very short legs. “He’s very good,” he said crumpling his face into William’s thigh.
He was still holding my hand when he introduced me to them, his son, he said, and his wife, Petra.
He insisted she didn’t care, that their relationship had absolutely no restrictions, that they let each other be exactly who they were at any given minute. He always said that, any given minute, as if after sixty seconds you became someone else, wanted something different. I wished that were true. I only kept wanting him.
He liked to quote Ralph Ellison: When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.
He wore nothing under his dresses, it turned out. Up they came, so easily, in the handicap bathroom stall, the coatroom, the walk-in. Petra and I got pregnant the same month.
A robust month for my spermatozoa, he said. He loved it. He saw nothing wrong. My abortion made him sad, but he didn’t argue and paid half.
In early April she came into the restaurant before we opened for lunch. She was only there for a minute, but it was a warm day and I saw the curve of her belly below the belt of her wrap dress. I put down the tray of salt and pepper shakers and walked out. I called my brother, stuffed my crap into Hefty bags, and drove up to Burlington.
A week before Sigrid’s wedding, Wes and I made plans to go to the movies. I had a night off and Mandy was visiting her sister in Rutland. I met him at the bar he went to after work. He was in the corner, playing pitch with Stu, his work buddy, and Ron, the one who was always going into the hospital for his heart, and Lyle who’d just gotten out of jail for a drug transport gone wrong at the Canadian border. I sat and waited for him to play out his hand. There was another guy at the table I didn’t recognize. He was young, probably still in college. He and Wes were both gnawing on toothpicks.
Wes won the trick with the jack of clubs.
“That’s bullcrap, Wesley Piehole,” Ron said.
They all called him Wesley. He never told them his first name was Westminster. He got up to pay the tab.
“So how do you know Wesley?” the kid with the toothpick asked me.
“He’s my brother.”
The kid laughed.
Across the room Wes nodded toward the door and I followed him out.
A few days later he asked if I remembered the young guy from the bar. I pretended I didn’t.
“College kid,” he said, as if he’d never been one. “Lots of hair. He said he didn’t believe you were my sister.”
“I told him I was.”
Wes smiled. “So you do remember him. He thought you were joking. About being my sister. I had to bet him a hundred bucks.”
“All you have to do is come by the bar and show him your driver’s license. When’s your next night off?”
I gave him a look.
“C’mon. Easiest cash I’ll ever make.”
I went by. His name was Jeb. I brought my passport because the photo was better. He seemed bizarrely impressed by the passport, more impressed than a guy with a good haircut and a prefaded t-shirt should have been. For no good reason he showed me his license. His full name was Jebediah. The photo must have been taken when he was sixteen. He looked like hope itself. He counted out five twenties for Wes.
“I don’t know why you’re smiling when I’m getting all the cheddar,” Wes said.
“I thought you grew up under a rock, man. I thought you grew up out of the earth like a mushroom.”
After I left Jeb asked my brother if he could ask me out.
We went to a candy factory out of town on a hill—everything was on a hill or nestled in a valley there—on a Thursday afternoon. Three old ladies in plastic caps gave us a tour and we ate warm dark chocolate nonpareils and soft peanut butter cups from a brown bag on some playground swings. All the facts of my childhood enthralled him, not because they had happened to me but because they had happened to Wes. Wes had put a bit of a spell on him. To him Wes had crawled out from under his rock and appeared at the bar with tarred teeth and BO and riffing on everything from Hume to Hendricks, gathering the young and the old, the honest and the corrupt, the dead broke and the slumming elite. Jeb had grown up wealthy in Connecticut. He said his nickname prevented people from seeing the Jew in him. His brother Ezra had a different and far more difficult childhood. Jeb had had plenty of exposure to WASPS, but he’d never met one like Wes who’d repented, recanted, who said when pressed that he grew up in Lynn, not Marblehead, who would never admit to tennis trophies or snorkeling in Barbados.
In the apartment below us were Stacy and her three kids. They were wild and yelled a lot and sometimes you’d see Stacy in a big woodsman’s coat, probably her ex-husband’s, across the street smoking a cigarette with all three kids wailing inside. But I could tell she was a good mother. From my desk I watched her take the kids to school and she’d walk like a duck or croon out a cheesy love song. Her kids were too young to be embarrassed and I could hear them all giggling even after they’d gone around the corner. I wrote a few vignettes about Stacy and her kids at that desk, but they never turned into anything. She’d been out of work for a while and when she finally found another job it was the graveyard shift, cleaning at the hospital. She had to take it, she told Wes. If her husband found out she didn’t have a job he’d try to overturn their custody agreement. After three months, she said, she could put in a request for daytime hours. So she made an arrangement with Wes and Mandy that if they heard anything they’d go down, and if the kids needed something they could come up. She left after she put them to bed and came back before they woke up.
The night after my date at the candy factory with Jeb— he’d kissed me at a stoplight and shot me little grins the rest of the way back—Wes, Mandy and I were woken up by a piercing scream, a howl, really, like someone had been bitten by something. It was the youngest, A.J., who’d dreamt he’d been attacked by a kitten.
“Kittens can be terrifying,” Wes said after he’d brought all three kids up to our kitchen and was heating up some milk. “They have very pointy teeth and if they are mean then their cuteness is even creepier.”
Little A.J. was looking down at his hands on the table and nodding. His face was red and sweaty. The oldest looked like he wasn’t really awake yet and the girl was walking around saying, “Mumma has one of these” to nearly everything in the room. Wes told her he needed help getting the honey from the high shelf and set her up with a stepladder and held her hand as she climbed to the top. When they all had mugs of sweetened milk in front of them, he reached for the salt and pepper shakers on the table and turned them into two friends named Willy and Nilly who were lost in the woods. By the end we all believed those small ceramic shakers were actual children, the way he made them move and speak and duck down when the eagles came looking for them, and that the toothpick he pulled out of his pocket was their mother come to find them. Mandy had tried to enter in with a spoon meant to be the father, but her voice was all wrong and I was glad when A.J. told her there was no father in the story and took the spoon out of her hand. We brought the kids back down and tucked them into bed.
The little girl looked at the clock on her nightstand. “Only three more hours till Mumma is back.”
I stroked her forehead.
Her eyes flashed open. “How many hours did I say?”
“Just three,” I told her.
We locked them in and went upstairs.
Sitting on the girl’s bed, stroking her hair had made me feel breathless and too light, like gravity had stopped working properly.
I stayed awake until Stacy came back. I heard her front door open and shut but she was quiet after that, needing those couple hours of rest before she had to get the kids up. I fell into a deep sleep and when I woke up she’d already taken them to school.
I drove down to Sigrid’s wedding. I couldn’t afford a room at the resort hotel so I’d skipped the previous night’s rehearsal dinner. That meant I had to get to the church an hour early for last-minute instructions. Someone named Caledonia met me at the church door. She made it clear she thought I’d shirked my maid-of-honor duties, so she’d taken them over. She’d even bought all the bridesmaids—there were eight of us—sterling silver bracelets engraved with the date. It would have taken me several shifts at the restaurant to pay for just one of these bracelets. She gave me mine. The box was wrapped in a tight blue ribbon with a double knot. She waited for me to undo it and lift the lid. It was too big. Bracelets always are. I have abnormally narrow hands. I slid it up close to my elbow and followed her to the nave.
Sigrid was unrecognizable as she walked down the aisle. When we were kids she’d had this crazy electrocuted hair and now it was all smoothed down and folded into petals that splayed out like a peony and made her face seem very small. I wasn’t sure if she was nervous or angry at me, but she only glanced over once and her expression did not change. I hadn’t seen her in thirteen years. I suspect she chose me as maid of honor so she didn’t have to pick a favorite among her real friends.
When it was over and the best man and I had walked back down the aisle I saw William, not in the back but close to the front, on the groom’s side, as if he were family. He was whispering with two aunties on either side of him. He was wearing a vintage white tux, absurdly overdressed for this afternoon wedding, but the cut was perfect and he so beautiful in it with his sheepish glance at me. He must have seen the invitation at my apartment in Cambridge before I’d left.
“Fuck him,” I said.
“Another lovely touch, No Show,” the best man said and detached my arm from his as soon as we reached the church doors. Clearly Caledonia had turned the wedding party against me.
As much as I wanted William on my arm at the reception, I told him to leave.
He brushed the back of his hand slowly up the side of my neck to my earlobe. “Let me just have a few hours with you.”
“Please go.” It was really hard to say these words.
A few of the other maids were watching, but turned away when I came back across the parking lot. We got into limos that took us to a country club where we posed for photos on the golf course as the sun dropped, the light flat and orange across our faces, the way photographers like it. The entire wedding party minus me had gone to the same small college in upstate New York. Sigrid and Bo had met at freshman orientation. All the toasts contained words like foretold and fate and meant to be. The women at least varied in height, weight, and hair color, but the men were enormous and indistinguishable, varsity oarsmen. Every time one stood up in the same suit to say the same thing the last one had said, I put him in a blood red kimono or a lemon yellow wrap.
When I couldn’t avoid it any longer I stood up and told a story about when Sigrid was six and her dog got sick. When I sat back down everyone at my table was crying. Caledonia reached across and grabbed my hand. We had matching bracelets. Sigrid hugged me and said she loved me and we all threw birdseed at them when they left. Sigrid and her new husband had changed out of their wedding clothes and looked like they were going off to work in an insurance office. Someone told me they were catching a flight to Athens. I got a ride back to my car at the church from a guy I’d had a crush in high school. He pulled up next to my car and I could see him deciding if he had the energy to try something, but I slid out before he came to a conclusion.
On the way back to Vermont I thought about words and how, if you put a few of them in the right order, a three-minute story about a girl and her dog can get people to forget all the ways you’ve disappointed them.
It was close to two in the morning when I got home and all the lights were still on in our apartment. Mandy was having one of her episodes. Wes had told me that every so often she drank herself into a sort of trance, but I hadn’t witnessed one before. She was pacing in the kitchen. Wes was at the table which was covered with all sorts of bottles and glasses and mugs.
“Go straight back to your room,” he told me. “Let me deal with her.”
Mandy’s head snapped toward me. She stopped moving. Her face was all rearranged, like this toy Wes and I once had with the outline of a man’s face and a bunch of metals filing you moved around with a magnetic pencil underneath to alter his features and make him happy or sad or mad. Mandy was mad.
“There she is, Little Miss Scribbler. Little Miss History of the Fucking World.”
“Here I am.” I was sober and very tired.
“Dressed like a fairy princess.”
I tried to curtsy but the bridesmaid’s dress was too narrow. I looked like a misshapen purple mermaid.
Wes made a slight flourish with his finger for me to keep moving to my back room.
She saw him. She was too close to the drawer with the knives for my liking. But she said, “Baby, I love you so much.” Her voice was empty of any emotion, like the identical oarsmen giving their toasts at the country club. “So much.” She moved to where he was, stiffly now, as if her knees had never healed.
I hummed, very low, barely a sound, a few notes of “Psycho killer.”
He was looking at her as she came down heavily on his lap, but he heard me, or at least he understood without hearing me, and a tiny corner of his mouth flinched up though he was fighting it hard.
Mandy leapt up. “What’s this?” She grabbed at the air over the table between Wes and me. “What is all this? I hate it. I hate it.” She was fighting it now, some invisible swarm over the table. Her hand swiped at a glass and it went flying behind her then more of the glasses and the bottles flew in different directions, and Wes just sat there waiting it out. When she stopped she looked like she had so much she wanted to be hollering but it had gotten stuck somewhere. The metal shavings of her expression rearranged again to a defiant brokenness.
There was tapping at the door.
Her head swiveled again. “I wonder who that could be,” she said mechanically.
“Maybe it’s Ethan,” I said.
“Ethan Frome.” I moved to get the door before I could see her reaction.
It was William. In his fucking turquoise sari. He ducked. A Jim Beam bottle sailed over his head, skittering along the porch boards, then slipping under the railing before smashing on the pavement below. He must have followed me three hours on the highway from the church parking lot.
Mandy came after me in her stiff-kneed way but I quickly got around the table. She chased me, but the imaginary knee thing really slowed her down and I had to be careful not to go so fast that I caught up with her from behind.
“Are we playing Duck Duck Goose?” William said, coming into the kitchen.
“Oh fuck, is that your asshole?” Wes said.
“It is I,” William said. “Her asshole.”
“Definitely not what I expected.”
“It’s all very sexy under there, unfortunately,” I said, still speed-walking around the table.
Mandy stopped in front of William. “This is so intricate,” she said, fingering the gold embroidery of his neckline.
Another knock on the door. William was closest.
“Hey man.” It was Jeb. “Cool dress.” He took in the room, saw me against the far wall. “Lucy,” he said, his voice rising. He came over to me. “You’re back.” He kissed me. His lips were cold and tasted of smoke and pine. “I had this fear you wouldn’t come back from Massachusetts. It was weird.”
“You’ve been in the woods.”
“Mhmm.” He kissed me again. “Party.” And again. “Bonfire.” He was young. He didn’t care who saw all the desire and energy he had.
“Petra had the baby,” William said. “A little girl named Oriole.”
It was the first time I’d felt alone in my body, like somebody was missing. I hadn’t felt it before.
I don’t know how Mandy knew—I hadn’t told Wes about either of the pregnancies—but she came around so fast and held me tight.
The sirens came then. Two cop cars into our lot. Of course we thought they were coming for us, but they banged on the door below. They banged and they banged and Stacy’s kids did not answer. We all stayed quiet. Wes shut off the light. Anything we said would get Stacy in trouble, he said.
Another car pulled into the lot. Stacy’s ex. I’d seen him once leaving her place. But he never came when he was supposed to, on Sundays, his day with the kids.
We heard him outside with the police, talking at the door.
“It’s okay, guys. Open up. It’s me. It’s your dad. It’s okay. Michael, Allie, A.J.” He said their names slowly and separately, like a new teacher would, like he was worried about mispronouncing them. “Open the door now.” Nothing. Then, “Your mom knows I’m here. She’s on her way. C’mon guys. Open up.”
Wes called over to the hospital and told them to tell Stacy to come home immediately. Then he called downstairs. We could hear the phone ringing below and their father saying from outside “Don’t answer that phone!” and Wes breathed out “C’mon,” and Mandy said, “Everyone is so serious now,” and we shushed her and she started to cry, but softly, mewling.
The phone stopped ringing.
“A.J.,” Wes gripped the receiver with two hands. “A.J., listen to me. Your mom is on her way home. Don’t open the door, all right? No, I know it’s your dad but listen. Tell him not to, A.J. Tell him—”
But they opened up.
Wes yanked open our door and his feet went down those stairs fast as a drumroll. “You guys know there’s a Protective Order prohibiting this man from removing those kids from the premises without their mother’s consent. You know that, right?”
“I’m not taking them,” the ex said. “They are.” He pointed to people we couldn’t see. We leaned over the railing. A man and a woman in street clothes were squatting down next to the kids, all three crying now, A.J. the loudest. He was trying to say Mumma but his lips wouldn’t come together for the m’s.
“Who are they?” Jeb whispered.
“DSS,” William said.
“No disrespect,” Wes said, “but you are making a terrible mistake here. Stacy is coming right back. If anyone’s at fault it’s me. She asked me to watch them and I had to run up to my place for another pack of cigarettes. There has never been a better mom—she loves those kids to pieces. She nurtures them and listens to them and—look, here she is.” He ran toward Stacy’s car, just pulling in, and said loudly, “Stace, I was just telling them how I had to run up for another pack—”
It all got terribly tangled after that with Stacy sprinting toward her kids and the cops restraining her and the kids howling and hitting the DSS people to get to their mother and her ex suddenly losing it, calling her a fuck-hole and spitting in her face except that it hit the neck of the smaller cop which he really didn’t like and he let go of Stacy and shoved her ex up against one of the poles that held up the porch we were standing on and we felt the whole flimsy structure shake as he knocked him around. The cop knew he’d gotten on the wrong side of things and needed to make himself feel better.
Through it all Wes kept talking, as if a certain combination of words spoken in the right tone could make it all better for everyone. But the cops took the ex away and the children were buckled into the back of the DSS car. Stacy tried to run after it but Wes held her back. He yelled up for me to throw him his keys and they got in his truck and raced out of the lot to catch up with her kids.
William was still looking in the direction of the car with the kids in it, even though the building next door blocked the view of the street.
“Go home to your family, William” I said.
“I will,” he said in a voice I hadn’t heard before, solemn as a priest.
He went down the stairs and across the lot. He didn’t have on the heels he normally wore with that outfit so the hem dragged a bit through the mud puddles.
Jeb ran the tips of his fingers along my temple and into my hair. He smelled like Vermont and everything I would miss about it later.
Mandy was still watching Wes through the little window next to the sink. “I found him, Mumma,” she was chanting to the glass. “The biggest heart on earth.”
Jeb followed me back to my room. He laughed at the grove of books and stepped up onto my bed in his boots.
I sat on my desk and watched him.
“Let’s start at the very beginning.” He put his finger on the first mark of the timeline: 200,00 BC, the appearance of Y-Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve.
My room smelled of wood smoke. Wes and Stacy were chasing a car with her kids in it through the city. Mandy and I would wait up for him all night. And someday soon I’d sit at this desk and try to freeze it all in place with words.
Jeb held out his hand to me. “C’mere.”
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